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'The Crown's' John Lithgow on playing Winston Churchill: 'I never would have chosen myself'

For veteran American actor John Lithgow, the prospect of playing Winston Churchill, one of the most prominent figures in British history, for Netflix’s “The Crown” prompted mixed feelings.

The first was excitement at the names attached to the series: creator Peter Morgan (“The Queen,” “Frost/Nixon”), director Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot,” “The Hours”) and star Claire Foy (“Wolf Hall”). And also confidence that he was being considered. But the other feeling?

Well, it was terror.

“It was Winston Churchill — arguably the most familiar face and voice in the whole 20th century,” Lithgow said. “And I would be playing it with an entire cast of Englishmen and Englishwomen … in England.”

“I never would have chosen myself,” Lithgow continued. “I’m so different than him. I’m so tall and so American.”

But being an outsider who could bring a fresh take to a figure that has been dramatized numerous times in his home country was precisely the appeal.

“It’s something that Peter Morgan described as Churchill-fatigue that they were suffering from in England,” Lithgow said. “Everybody in England has a perfect Churchill imitation … they needed something that slightly broke the mold. I guess?”

It has certainly paid off. Lithgow’s deft portrayal of the prime minister has earned him an Emmy nomination for supporting actor in a drama this year.

For more on how Lithgow prepared for the role — mentally and physically — and to hear his thoughts on a “3rd Rock from the Sun” revival, watch the full interview below:

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yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

Twitter: @villarrealy

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